This article originally appeared on VICE India.
We’ve always known that the highly contagious nature of coronavirus makes pretty much everything a no-touch zone, including our damn faces. We’ve dealt with it by covering ourselves with face masks, gloves and hand sanitisers. But now, scientists are speculating the possibility that COVID-19 could persist in men’s semen and even be sexually transmitted.
A small study of 38 patients conducted at China’s Shangqiu municipal hospital found that sperm samples of infected men, even those on their way to recovery, contained the virus. Those whose semen contained coronavirus were a very small percentage, with the results only showing for six men out of the 38. But though the findings are still too small to be declared groundbreaking or definitively say that coronavirus can be sexually transmitted, the results significantly differ in the context of previous studies in which all semen samples of infected patients tested negative. Therefore, more research is needed to draw a definitive conclusion.
“Further studies are required with respect to the detailed information about virus shedding, survival time and concentration in semen,” the team of doctors wrote in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. However, doctors feel that understanding whether it can spread through semen was an important step in prevention, especially since samples of men who were recovering also appeared to contain the virus.
However, some medical experts argue that this study is still not conclusive of anything, even as they agree that the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the male reproductive system are not known.
“However, we should not be surprised if the virus which causes Covid-19 is found in the semen of some men, since this has been shown with many other viruses such as Ebola and Zika,” Allan Pacey, a professor of andrology at Sheffield University in the UK told The Guardian. He also points out the possibility of technical difficulties while testing, and that the mere presence of the sperm does not necessarily make it viral. Meanwhile, the team of Chinese doctors have said that even if the virus cannot replicate in the male reproductive system, it may persist, possibly resulting from the privileged immunity of testes, which are basically the organs that allow the virus to persist for longer as the entry of immune cells to these sites is blocked.
"Abstinence or condom use might be considered as preventive means for these patients,” the team wrote. “In addition, it is worth noting that there is a need for studies monitoring fetal development. Therefore, to avoid contact with the patient's saliva and blood may not be enough, since the survival of SARS-CoV-2 in a recovering patient's semen maintains the likelihood to infect others."
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